WASHINGTON — Under the Clinton administration, the Pentagon farmed out critical research projects to Chinese nationals working at elite laboratories on
Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, WorldNetDaily has learned.
The foreign scientists have conducted experiments on technology considered extremely valuable to the People’s Liberation Army of China, including infrared sensors used in chemical warfare and titanium alloys used in submarines and high-performance aircraft.
At least one Chinese scientist, Guangming Li of Shanghai, has traveled to the People’s Republic of China, or PRC, since joining the base in 1995.
Around that time, Wright-Patterson also started a program with Wright State University to permit students from China to collaborate with lab scientists on the Dayton, Ohio, base.
The growing Chinese presence on the key base has alarmed China hawks in the Pentagon.
“Why are they working at one of the nation’s most strategically important bases, especially after the Los Alamos espionage?” asked one senior Pentagon official.
In 1999, a bipartisan commission in Congress concluded that China had targeted Energy Department research labs for espionage, stealing vital secrets to all nuclear warheads deployed in the U.S. arsenal.
China also has obtained classified U.S. missile technology from Defense Department installations around the country, prompting the Pentagon to hire 450 counterintelligence specialists by 2002 to protect technical secrets at defense labs and defense contractors.
According to an unclassified FBI and CIA report to Congress last year, most military intelligence collected by Chinese nationals is gathered legally through universities, research institutions and the Internet.
But “some of the thousands of Chinese students, scientists, researchers and other visitors to the United States also gather information” directly for the Ministry of State Security, which is responsible for civilian collection of foreign intelligence, the government report on Chinese spying said.
The Air Force Institute of Technology
The Chinese scientists at Wright-Patterson are employed at the Air Force Institute of
Technology, or AFIT, which works with the Air Force Research Laboratory, or AFRL, on projects focusing on Air Force and Defense Department problems.
“Chinese handlers could tell them what to develop, using U.S. taxpayer money and U.S. know-how, and then turn it against us,” the career Pentagon official said.
AFIT, which has a stated mission “to support national security through education, research and consultation,” controls $3.1 million in government-funded projects, according to a 1999 internal report. AFRL manages $1.2 billion in R&D projects around the U.S.
“That’s a lot of taxpayer money to go to potentially funding PLA problems,” added the Pentagon source, who wished to go unnamed.
But Wright-Patterson officials are not as worried that U.S. secrets will find their way back to China.
“That’s not a major concern,” said Robert Hengehold, head of AFIT’s department of engineering physics.
He says all scientists on faculty are “cleared through official channels” and are not a threat to security.
Guangming Li is a senior research associate in Hengehold’s department. For the past five years, he’s been working with the Army on infrared sensors for its chemical warfare program.
He’s also done research on other types of sensors.
Sensors — critical for any kind of targeting or detecting — are on the cutting edge of military technology.
Optical sensors, for instance, are key to the success of the development of a missile-defense system. They will be its eyes, allowing it to pick an enemy warhead out of a clutter of decoys and chaff, lock onto it and kill it.
Optical sensors also are used in so-called smart weapons, showcased in the Gulf War. Cruise missiles and precision-guided bombs have an optical sensor — basically a camera — mounted on their nose.
The Pentagon uses optical sensors, in addition, in missiles to steer reentry vehicles carrying nuclear warheads toward their target. Nearing impact, they can see precisely when to set off ground bursts.
Ultra-violet sensors are used in stealth warfare, as well as in biological and chemical warfare.
Infrared sensors, meanwhile, are used in all heat-seeking missiles.
They’re also used to detect contamination clouds in chemical warfare. The value is not just defensive. With reliable sensors, countries like China are more likely to deploy and use chemical warheads — even regionally — since they can control their effects. If they can easily detect when an environment is hot with contaminants, they can move troops around it.
It’s this chemical detection — specifically, the signature technology — that Guangming, who visited China three years ago, is in charge of researching for the U.S. Army.
In a phone interview, Guangming told WorldNetDaily that he met only with family members and no Chinese government officials during his recent trip to China. He also says he gave no lectures there.
Hengehold doesn’t view Guangming, who has no classified access, as a security risk.
He also doesn’t consider him a foreign national. “We have no Chinese nationals,” he asserted.
“I believe Guangming Li is a U.S. citizen,” Hengehold explained. “He did come from the PRC. But he is not, to the best of my knowledge, a Chinese national.”
In fact, Guangming is still a citizen of China and has not yet been naturalized as a U.S. citizen. And he confirmed that he didn’t get his green card until 1997 — after he began working on the air base.
Asked when he’ll apply for U.S. citizenship, Guangming replied, “I plan to do that by the end of the year.” Then, he says he hopes to be cleared to access classified documents.
Another Chinese scientist, Bo Yang, has been conducting research for AFIT’s aerospace engineering department.
Bo left the AFIT faculty about a year ago, but is still doing research for the institute, says Jay Anderson, the supervisor of the aerospace engineering lab.
Bo has been conducting experiments on titanium alloys to see how they fatigue under high temperatures. The material is used in missiles, high-performance aircraft and submarines.
According to Capt. David R. King, an expert on arms transfers who teaches at the U.S. Air Force Academy, U.S. technology involving submarines, stealth aircraft, cruise missiles, sensors and chemical weapons, among others, should be protected above all
other technology, especially where China is concerned.
A Pentagon official says that, in addition to the Chinese scientists, an “army” of students from China conducts research at the base on a daily basis — without proper clearance.
In the 1990s, Wright State University created the University Center for International Education, and strengthened ties with its affiliate university in China. It also created the Dayton Area Graduate Studies Institute with the University of Dayton and AFIT.
Under the auspices of these programs, students from China can work on the base without stringent background checks — although they must carry green cards, Hengehold says.
Wright-Patterson also runs a foreign liaison program.
In fact, the bulk of foreign liaison officers in the Air Force are stationed at Wright-Patterson.
All told, about 120 foreign officers worked at the base in 1998. Some 36 of them were assigned to AFIT.
Many of the foreign officers, who are given a security briefing when they arrive at the base, are there to help facilitate military sales to their countries.
AFIT sponsors cooperative research and development agreements, whereby private contractors take research out of the labs and develop it for profit, sharing some of the proceeds with the labs.
Phone calls seeking comment on security issues from the director of AFIT’s international programs office were not immediately returned.